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The eating plan – rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, peas and beans, and nuts and seeds – also cut the risk of heart disease. Scientists say its benefits could vary depending on biological factors, known as biomarkers or pathways, and may only help people who are overweight. Study corresponding author Dr Samia Mora, of Harvard Medical School in the US, said: “Our findings support the idea that by improving their diet, people can improve their future risk of Type 2 diabetes, particularly if they are overweight or have obesity.”
Researchers followed female health professionals for 25 years to pinpoint which biological factors were at play.
Participants were assigned a Med Diet score from zero to nine, with points given for eating more fruit, veg, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish, drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, and eating less red or processed meat.
A range of biomarkers were measured, including cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI), special fat transport cells called lipoproteins and resistance to insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels.
Of the 25,000 women who took part, 2,307 had developed Type 2 when the data was analysed in 2017.
Participants with a diet score of six or over were 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
But these health benefits were only observed in overweight or obese women with a BMI greater than 25.
Study first author Dr Shafqat Ahmad, of Uppsala University, in Sweden, said: “Most of this reduced risk associated with the Mediterranean diet and Type 2 diabetes was explained through the biomarkers related to insulin resistance, BMI, lipoprotein metabolism and inflammation. This understanding may have important downstream consequences for the primary prevention of diabetes disease.”
Scientists say their findings, published in JAMA Network Open, help explain why the diet protects some people against diabetes and could be used by doctors to make better dietary recommendations.
Dr Ahmad added: “Even small changes can add up over time. One of the best things patients can do for future health is to improve their diet, and now we are beginning to understand why.”
Around four million people in Britain are living with Type 2 diabetes, with women more likely to suffer serious complications.
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